Q: What are the symptoms of AIDS/HIV in women?

A: Early signs of the infection are flu-like symptoms, swollen lymph glands, recurrent fever, rapid weight loss, constant tiredness, diarrhea and decreased appetite, and white spots or unusual blemishes in the mouth. For women, there are other indications as well:

  • Recurrent yeast infections (vaginal candidiasis)
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Abnormal changes in cervical tissue
  • Genital ulcers
  • Genital warts
  • Severe mucosal herpes infections.

Q: How do I reduce my chances of contracting HIV?

A: The best way to protect yourself is to stop all illegal drug use, particularly injection drugs, and abstain from sexual intercourse. Don't share needles. Don't have unprotected sex with someone who has ever used injection drugs or with a man who has had sex with another man. HIV is transmitted through bodily secretions, like blood, saliva, vaginal secretions, and semen. So you can contract the virus during vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Use barrier methods, such as condoms and dental dams, properly during sexual activity.

Q: If I'm HIV positive and I get pregnant, will my baby have HIV also?

A: One in 4 babies in the US whose mothers are HIV positive and do not receive treatment become infected with HIV before or during birth or through breast-feeding. Doctors can prescribe the drug AZT for infected pregnant women to reduce the risk of transmission. The earlier HIV is diagnosed and treated in the mother, the more effective this treatment is.

Q: What kind of test will tell me if I have HIV?

A: Two types of tests are used to screen for HIV infection.

A reactive test, such as the Elisa Test, indicates if HIV antibodies (those agents in your body mobilized to fight infection) are in the blood. A reactive test may give a false positive if you are in kidney or renal failure, have had multiple pregnancies, have had a flu shot, or have received gamma globulin injections. If there is a negative result on the test, no HIV antibodies were found. To get a more accurate reading, wait three to six months, abstain from sex or practice safe sex, and then get a confirmatory test.

A confirmatory test (Western Blot) shows your HIV status. A positive result means you have been infected with HIV, there are HIV antibodies in your blood, and you can infect others.

Being HIV positive does not mean you will definitely develop AIDS, but it is likely that you will.